Committee member, Federal Capital Territory War Food Fund, President of the Gininderra Branch of the Red Cross 1914-1917, then President of the Hall Branch of the Red Cross from October 1917
Helen Blanche Crace was a founding member of the Federal Capital Territory’s War Food Fund in August 1914, and president of the Gininderra branch of the Red Cross. Her husband, Everard Gregory Crace, grazier, enlisted with the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) in April 1917 and was away for two years.
Helen Blanche Lingen was born in Kensington, London to Julia Lucas Tooth and Cambridge-educated lawyer, John Taylor Lingen. In accordance with Julia’s wish to live in Australia where her brother Sir Robert Lucas Lucas-Tooth was a brewer in Sydney, the Lingens sailed from England on the SS Pekin on 6 February 1880 with Blanche, then aged six months, and her elder sister, Alice Mary ‘May’, aged 23 months. Blanche’s two younger sisters were born in Australia: Florence Ethelreda ‘Reda’ in 1880, and Cecily in 1888.
Blanche married Everard Gregory Crace on 8 December 1903 at St Mark’s Anglican Church, Darling Point, Sydney, in fine style with the Fairfax family and leading legal figures among the guests. She gave birth to five children – Helen Lingen Crace (1906), Frena Lingen Crace (1908), Richard Lingen Crace (1912), Julia Hazel Lingen Crace (1914), and Edward John Crace (1915).
Blanche and her husband initially lived at ‘The Cottage’, on the Crace family property at Gininderra. Their home was seen as the centre of the district’s social life. When Blanche’s father-in-law drowned in 1892 attempting to cross the swollen creek after a trip to the Gininderra post office to send a telegram, her mother-in-law, Kate, managed the property until she moved to Sydney in 1911. After the property was acquired by the Commonwealth for the Federal Capital in 1915, Everard and Blanche leased part of the property back and lived in the homestead, Gungahleen, with its stately avenue of trees then known as a landmark for tourists entering the Federal Capital Territory via Yass.
Blanche was popular in the district, noted for her good works and lovable disposition and always ready to offer practical help; ‘a lady of broad views, happy disposition, and a model hostess’. (‘The late Mrs E.G. Crace’, 1926, p. 33) Gungahleen was open house to many Duntroon cadets, a home away from home for many of the young men who had come from all over Australia and New Zealand to train as army officers. Active in all parts of the community, she was a leading light in the founding of the Gininderra School of Arts, having worked with the local schoolmaster, Mr Charles Thompson, for its establishment as a place of interest and improvement as well as entertainment, with a reading room, library and dramatic club.
In August 1914, soon after the outbreak of war, Blanche attended a meeting of women residents of Canberra and the FCT convened by the Administrator’s wife, Jane Miller, at the Residence in Acton at which a Territory branch of the War Food Fund was founded ‘for the purpose of helping our soldiers and sailors who are at the present moment on active service upholding the British Empire in the great war now… and for relieving distress amongst the relations of soldiers and sailors or the poor’. (‘Patriotic Fund, Canberra,’ 1914, p. 2). The women present agreed that money collected be donated to the War Food Fund established by the Sydney Chamber of Commerce to help soldiers, and to benefit Australian workers on the home front by purchasing food and other articles like clothing and blankets that were all products of Australia and the hands of Australian workers, thus providing employment opportunities at a difficult time. The Queanbeyan Age reported that the women present ‘enthusiastically approved Jane Miller’s scheme’ and appointed a committee of which Blanche was a member. (‘Patriotic Fund, Canberra,’ 1914, p. 2).
After Lady Helen Munro Ferguson, wife of the Governor General, formed an Australian Branch of the British Red Cross Society on 13 August 1914, she requested support for the formation of branches throughout the country. Australian women responded by forming local Red Cross branches the length and breadth of the country. Despite the fact that in 1914 Blanche had children aged eight, six and two, and gave birth to two other children in 1914 and 1915, she was also president of the Gininderra branch of the Red Cross Society, established on 25 August 1914 for ladies of the Hall and Gininderra districts. The nearby towns of Yass and Queanbeyan initiated their own local branches around the same time that the Gininderra branch was established by women from Gininderra, Hall, Weetangera and Upper Canberra (Ainslie). The aim was to assemble essentials for soldiers about to embark for the battlefronts. The Yass Courier listed the required items on 20 August 1914:
‘2 Flannel shirts (grey), large; 2 suits of strong pyjamas large (to be washed); 2 coloured handkerchiefs (to be washed); 2 pairs of large sized socks (to be washed); 2 reels of black thread; 2 reels of white thread, No. 20; needles, No 4. A letter pad and envelopes, penholder and pencil’. (‘Directions for Workers,’ 1914, p. 3)
Blanche encouraged women and girls to sew. She ran weekly knitting classes to encourage those who were unable to knit to join in the patriotic effort. She also involved local schoolchildren, as reported in the Queanbeyan Age in September 1914: ‘The pupils attending Hall and Mulligan’s Flat schools are preparing a soldier’s bag each. The girls are entering most heartily into the work and are fully realising the meaning of Empire Day and Australia’s position in the Empire’. (‘Young Patriots’, 1914, p. 2) It is likely that Blanche’s own daughters, Helen who turned eight in 1914, and Frena who was six, were involved.
The new Red Cross branch at Gininderra quickly swung into action and organised a ball on 2 October 1914.
As well as being busy organising fundraising social events, the women were highly productive. On 13 April 1915 the Queanbeyan Age and Queanbeyan Observer reported that since the New Year the women of the Gininderra Red Cross had made 260 garments, ‘for the children of soldiers and sailors who have lost their lives in the service of the country’. (‘Gininderra Red Cross Society’, 1915, p. 2)
Later that year, on Saturday 9 October 1915, Blanche organised lunch for another patriotic fundraiser when the Gininderra Farmers’ Union held its seventh annual patriotic show. An advertisement in the Queanbeyan Age and Queanbeyan Observer on 21 September 1915 proclaimed: ‘Luncheon provided on the ground under the able management of Mrs E.G. Crace’. (‘Prize Schedule for Fifth Annual Show of the Gininderra Farmers’ Union’, 1915, p. 3)
On 24 May 1916, as needs grew, Hall women founded a separate branch under Louisa Southwell. The Gininderra and Hall branches overlapped, with some women belonging to or supporting both. They held sports days and balls to raise funds for the materials they used and also for monetary donations to the Red Cross and other organisations. Blanche and her committee members were kept busy knitting, sewing and organising fundraisers. At the same time her husband was involved in patriotic events through his presidency of the Yarralumla Shire Council. By October 1917, Blanche was president of the Hall branch.
In April 1917 Blanche’s husband, Everard Gregory Crace, enlisted as a Private in the 19th Battalion, 20th Reinforcement, and sailed from Sydney on the HMAT A16 Port Melbourne on 16 July 1917. He was away until 21 March 1919, working as the battalion cook because of his age. Although left with five young children from 2 to 11 years old, Blanche was later remembered as an ‘ardent and consistent worker in connection with the Red Cross movement, and her deeds in those dark days are recalled with pleasure from the memory of her personality and ability to influence others to help.’ (‘The late Mrs. E.G. Crace,’ 1926, p. 33)
The Queanbeyan Age and Queanbeyan Observer reported in April 1918 that the Hall branch planned to hold a Fete and a ‘Ladies versus Gents’ cricket match on 4 May to assist Australia Day Funds. The day proved a great success with four hundred visitors from all the neighbouring centres, presumably Queanbeyan, Yass, and maybe Goulburn.
The paper commented ‘that the Society is performing meritorious work on behalf of the heroic lads at the front’. (‘Gininderra,’ April 1918, p. 2). In November another report in the Queanbeyan Age and Queanbeyan Observer praised Blanche’s leadership skills: ‘Ever since the war started the local Red Cross Society, under the able presidency of Mrs. E. G. Crace, has, by her whole-hearted enthusiasm and gracious tact, galvanised the whole community with the one singleness of purpose –‘winning the war’’. (‘Gininderra,’ November 1918, p. 2)
The Hall Red Cross branch gave up active work in October 1919 – war had ended so there was no longer the need of the previous years. The Hall schoolteacher Charles Thompson penned a tribute to the women that was published in the Queanbeyan Age and Queanbeyan Observer on 28 October 1919, acknowledging the challenges of such a group in a rural area. (‘Gininderra,’ 1919, p. 2) He wrote that many of the Red Cross members had been compelled to travel eight miles to attend meetings and had to convey provisions in all weathers. ‘Nevertheless,’ he wrote ‘this noble band of lady workers were fully determined that the brave lads who have dared their all for the sake of King and country, should not be wanting in comforts and necessaries if their exertions and nimble fingers could supply the want.’ In June 1920 Blanche unveiled the honour roll of district men who had served with the AIF on a board at Hall School (‘Empire Day Celebrations at Hall’, 1920, p. 2)
Blanche died suddenly and unexpectedly of a heart attack at her home, Gungahleen, on 13 September 1926, aged 48 years. The funeral took place on 15 September at St. John the Baptist Anglican Church, Canberra, where she had worshipped and which she had helped to maintain. A party of twenty cadets from Duntroon formed a guard of honour, and wreaths from all parts of Australia ‘bore silent testimony to her hold on the affections of many.’ Her obituary in the Canberra Times a few days later provided further evidence of the esteem in which she was held:
The deceased was well-known and beloved throughout the Southern portion of New South Wales. Of an active and benevolent nature, she was foremost in all movements for the advancement of the district, and her loss will be felt by every section of the community. Of her it may truly be said ‘She did good by stealth,’ for many of her charitable acts were unknown to her friends (‘Mrs E.G. Crace’, 1926, p. 1)
NB: During World War I the district name was spelt Gininderra, whereas now it is spelt Ginnindera. The author has used the spelling relevant to the period covered. The property name later changed from Gungahleen to Gungahlin. Note also that the Australian Capital Territory was known as the Federal Capital Territory from 1911-1938.
DR NIKI FRANCIS
Explore further resources about Blanche Crace in the Australian Women's Register.